It is easy to be almost addicted to completion. We seem to internalize certain rules and are either unable to break them or, if we do break them, we feel guilty. Don’t leave the movie theater before the film is over. Always finish a book once you start it. We have the idea the if we start something we have to finish it no matter what.
Why? If the movie is bad and I’m not enjoying it, why should I stay and watch it instead of cutting my losses and leaving? (Something I’ve done only twice in my life.) If I’m satisfied by reading part of a book, what does it matter that I haven’t finished it? It is one thing to say, as my father did when I wanted to quit the debate team after the first meeting of freshman year in high school, “Give it a chance before you give up on it.” (I took his advice and spent all of my four years of high school as a quite successful debater.) It is another to demand that we stick with something merely because we started it.
Elevating completion to a goal ignores the fact that the process is often a lot more important than the endpoint. In a wonderful essay titled In Praise of Incompletion, that appeared in Weavings several years ago, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes,
It might be that if we were to go where our curiosities led us, dwell there while authentically engaged, and stop when we had enough, we might, paradoxically, be less inclined to boredom, superficiality, or fickle interests, becuase we might experience in a more authentic way the movement of the Spirit within us that seeks our growth and highest good. Like plants, we seek the sun. Natural creatures tend, unspoiled by cultural pressures, to seek out what they need, take what they need, and stop when they are satisfied. We learn, unlike them, to betray ourselves….Finishing may be beside the point.
So give yourself permission now and then (i.e., not in the middle of a term paper or job-related task you’ve committed to get done for a client) to not finish something…and not to be guilty about it.